A lot of very good writing from some reliable commentators has been suggesting that organizations have been forced into a digital-first environment. Covid has been the enforcer and business and public sector alike have adapted to having a distributed workforce by putting the infrastructure in where there were gaps. This is OK as far as it goes but it’s not quite right.
The best organizations have not gone ‘digital-first’. They have moved to become, or remained if they already were, deeply people-centric and ensured the technology facilitates that.
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The Digital Employee Experience
The meeting point of the person and the digital is often described as the Digital Employee Experience (DEX). It’s topical; according to the recently-released Nexthink Pulse Report, 49% of IT leaders agreed with the statement “I agree that DEX is important to my IT department” in May 2019; in May 2020 this had shot up to 78% and later in the pandemic, in October, this reached 96%. It doesn’t take a searing intelligence to realize that if your only means of contacting someone is through the digital world then technology is going to increase in importance during a pandemic but what’s really striking is that around a third (34%) relied on manual methods to collect experience information while 46% didn’t bother measuring their employees’ digital experience at all.
The fact that engagement is happening only through digital means seems self-evident but it’s supported by some key indicators. Last May, when the pandemic was very much established (but few people predicted it would continue as long as it did), 43% of leaders said increased support ticket requests were their biggest challenge since it began. Since that time 70% of leaders said ticket and call volume had continued to spike up to as much as 50%.
IT staff are employees too
The confidence of the IT staff has become a regrettable casualty of this increased dependence on the digital world and Nexthink found some pretty stark views. Last May, just over half of IT leaders felt confident that they could accurately measure the impact of a new technology roll-out when the users were remote, with only a handful saying they were confident with innovations. Meanwhile employees were reporting poor VPN connections and video calls, with some citing poor WiFi connection as well.
The stress has to increase when IT staff become aware that employees report only half their technology issues, which means (again according to Nexthink data) that employees are shrugging off 45% of their IT disruptions and going through around 100 tech-related interruptions over the course of a year.
The answer has to be engagement – genuine engagement rather than paying it lip service. IT staff are competent to deal with a great many of the breakdowns that occur whether they are physically present or not, but if the right tools for them to communicate their issues are not deployed it is impossible for them to report in. Likewise a good HR and engagement system will take account of checking in for general wellness and, during the pandemic, mental health issues where appropriate.
This is all about a change of culture but it’s about ensuring that people are at the center and that they feel technology is helping and empowering them. This involves a solid platform and yes, their own Internet connection might let them down at the last minute but they need the confidence to report this and ask for help. At this point a well-specified system will gather the data and analyse who is having a difficulty and where, and enable decision makers to apportion the right resources in the right areas.
The picture evolves
When I started writing about technology in the very late 1980s the ethos was very much that technology dictated what it could do and its buyers had to accept it. In those pre-Windows days when files were transported around the office on floppy disk and only a handful of people used a mouse this was probably inevitable.
Flash forward to the dawn of the 2020s and the picture is radically different. For reasons we’d rather not have faced, employee engagement is becoming exclusively digital and increasing amounts of research suggest people won’t be racing back to the old way of working anytime soon. Popular culture and commentaries suggest organizations have to go digital or die and to an extent this is correct. The bigger story is that cultures do have to become digital but in such a way that they leave the employee at the center. It takes resources, skills, and the right technology, but the reward will be a business fit for the 2020s.